LEWISTON -- Some people were wowed by Central Maine Medical Center's 22 new, private treatment rooms and trauma beds, some by the super-sized waiting area with its bubbly, color-changing water feature, granite and calming earth tones.
Still others marveled at the state-of-the-art equipment, from treatment beds that weigh patients to computers that enable doctors and nurses to instantly access electronic medical records from every treatment room.
"It's just everything you could want to take care of patients this century," said veteran nurse Crystal Guerrette. "I shiver when I think of how wonderful it is."
In an afternoon open house Wednesday, CMMC formally unveiled its new Emergency Department, the core of a three phase, $45 million construction project. As part of Phase I, the hospital expanded its lab, moved its emergency entrances and created a new Emergency Department with all-private treatment rooms.
Beginning Monday morning, all CMMC emergency patients will go to the new department. The ambulance entrance will shift to the Main Street side of the hospital. The public will enter behind 12 High St., where the emergency entrance was located several years ago. Signs will direct people where to go.
On Wednesday, community members got their first look at the new department. Tour guides led dozens of people through the three private triage rooms, four-bed trauma area and single-bed treatment rooms equipped with computers for medical personnel and TVs for patients to distract themselves while they wait for a doctor or for tests.
"It gives people the ability to rest and relax and focus on what they want to focus on," Peggy McRae, Emergency Department nurse manager, said.
They also toured the large nurses' station, the separate hallways for medical personnel and patients' families, and the waiting area, which can seat 70. The old waiting area had seating for fewer than 20 and patients often lined the hallway.
"Here, right here, this is just awesome," said CMMC volunteer Hartley Fogg, throwing his arms open wide as if to embrace the waiting area.
CMMC's former Emergency Department was built in the early 1990s to accommodate about 25,000 patients per year. Recently, it has seen more than 50,000 a year.
Peter Chalke, CEO of Central Maine Healthcare, CMMC's parent organization, told the crowd that the hospital got state approval for the $45 million project with the stipulation that it pay $10 million of the cost in cash. He said that while the state still owes it $25 million in back MaineCare payments, CMMC will fulfill the cash requirement using some of the $39 million in MaineCare money that Maine is soon expected to pay.
"Without this settlement, I have no clue where that money would have come from," he said.
He said the hospital would borrow to pay for the rest of the project.
Another 14 private treatment rooms will be added in July as part of Phase II. Phase III will include changes to radiology, along with final renovations to the existing hospital space. The project is slated to be finished in February 2012.
When it's done, the Emergency Department will go from about 20,000 square feet to about 38,000 square feet.
Lewiston's other hospital, St. Mary's Regional Medical Center, completed an Emergency Department expansion last February, more than doubling its space. That project cost $8.5 million.